Fitness centers reopen to build muscles, lift hopes

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Steven Kelley’s face wrenched and his eyes squinted, only to be replaced by an occasional wince of pain, every time he pulled the elastic band as tight as a banjo string.

Workouts for the Green Cove Springs City Councilman and former mayor are fun again, even if it means sweating and discomfort.

“I’m just happy to get back to normal,” he said during his workout at Fitness Anytime at the Cove Plaza. “When you work five or six days a week, this is a nice way to let off some steam.”

Kelley, who also owns Spring Park Coffee, was relieved when the restrictions were lifted May 18 for gymnasiums and fitness centers out of caution for COVID-19.

The president gave states the latitude to unlock the doors at fitness centers on May 11, but Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to extend the lockdown for another week to make sure there were significant guidelines to protect residents.

Additional guidelines did little to keep members from pumping iron.

“It’s nice to be open again because the community really needed it,” said Anytime Fitness manager Minda Solano. “We’re all so happy to be back at work. The members have been gracious.”

Solano’s center has added several layers of precautions. Maximum capacity is limited to 50% and each workout station is separated by at least six feet.

In addition, every member is asked to grab a spray bottle of disinfectant to wipe down every machine after use. When the workout is done, the bottles are dropped off at a different table.

“We disinfect the bottles of disinfectant,” Solano said.

Every-other cardiovascular machines like treadmills, stair climbers and ellipticals, are closed to assure social distancing, Solano said. And every machine is wiped down hourly, regardless of use.

Other gyms and fitness centers also have reopened. The Barco-Newman Family and Dye Clay YMCAs turned on the lights last Monday, while facilities like Achieve Fitness Center on Fleming Island also are back in business.

Ryan Davis lives in Middleburg and teaches school in Putnam County. After teaching classes from home for more than two months, he was happy to make the short drive for his first hard workout session in weeks.

“I’m sure I’ll be sore [the next day], but it’s worth it,” he said. “Your health is important. It wasn’t easy to get back, but now that I have, I want to keep it going.”

Kelley said he pulled old equipment from storage and tried to create a workout from home. He said it tweaked muscles and joints.

“I had to pull everything out and do the best I could do,” Kelley said. “What takes me 45 minutes here took more than an hour-and-a-half at home. I had to be creative at home.”

Kelley said he doesn’t mind the restrictions. He just wants feel the burn again.

“Whatever procedure, I don’t care,” he said. “Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Now that it’s summer, this is as good as it gets.”

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